Walking the Regent's Canal Stage 5: Islington Tunnel to Victoria Park (2½ miles)
Most canal walkers don't make it to the other side of the Islington Tunnel, which is a shame because the canal on the other side of the Islington Tunnel is also very pretty. But only for the first 500 yards. The waterway emerges into a green cutting lined with trees and houseboats, drops through yet another lock and opens out into CityBasin. This is the longest (and widest) of all the sidearms on the Regent's Canal and was originally the main unloading point for goods destined for the City of London. Now it's the perfect spot for junior kayak training at the local Boat Club and, this being Islington, for the creation of a "a vibrant and active waterspace". There's a blue and white tiled mural on the northern wall, the title to which should read REGENT'S CANAL except that the centre section containing the S and C has unfortunately fallen away. Some locals walk no further before returning home, while others are brave enough to continue over the invisible border into Hackney.
Sorry, but the two miles through Hackney are the least attractive on the canal. Not that there's anywhere truly ugly along the way, but equally there's nothing especially outstanding. There are a couple of sceniclocks, some pleasant arched bridges and this splendid gasholder, as well as various well-judged artyinstallations along the canalside, but most of the walk is dominated by flats, blocks of flats and long flat towpaths. The canal gentrifies all that it touches, even the harshest council estate, but you sense that local architects haven't repaid the compliment. Indeed there are several waterside apartments, both old and new, where it must be better to be on the inside looking out than on the outside looking in. As another blogger so appositely phrased it, "this is a nice walk, though it has rape scene aura to it".
Rest assured that the Hackney stretch does have its highlights. Drinkers sit at wooden tables in front of the Rosemary Branch in De Beauvoir Town, a characterful pub which also contains a tiny theatre. The long-faded remains of a painted rainbow can just be seen on a sewerpipe arching over the canal nearby. To the east of Kingsland Road (pictured) the pillared remains of a dismantled railway bridge can be seen, originally supporting the mainline out of Broad Street and soon to be reborn as the northern end of the East London Line extension. The hooligan element have been out in force with black marker pens at CANAL WALK. Pigeons congregate nearby, pecking at discarded takeaways in the turd-strewn grass. Historic BroadwayMarket leads down from London Fields, an unexpectedly characterful shopping street that's well worth a diversion. Mare Street, on the other hand looks much better from underneath. And don't worry, the decent scenery will soon be back - those trees in the distance are the welcome sight of Victoria Park.